Changes in UK Health & Safety Guidelines Could See Safety Penalties Top £10 Million

May 9, 2016

As of the 1st  February 2016, the highly anticipated health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety hygiene offences guidelines came into force. The guidelines were first published on 3rd November 2015 and now apply to all organisations sentenced on or after its enforcement date; regardless of the date of the offence.

The guidelines have been cited as one of the most dramatic changes in the industry since the Health and Safety at work Act of 1974. Firstly the level of harm or risk of harm is assessed and categorised, then the size of the company is taken into consideration. Some examples of the types of fines that can now be applied are;

  • Starting point of £4 million, which would relate to some of the most serious offences (harm category 1) committed by larger companies with a turnover of £50 million or more.
  • Starting point of £250,000 for a Harm category 1 offence for smaller companies with a turnover of less than £2 million.

Why Are The Guidelines Being Put In Place?

The guidelines were first prompted by a lack of consistency in the courts’ sentencing approach regarding these types of offences, often leading to fines that were disproportionate to the role of the offender, or which undermined the significance of the offence. This has allowed larger companies to get away with offences, receiving only small fines and no imprisonment.

In a statement regarding the changes, the sentencing council said: “The increase in penalties for serious offending has been introduced because, in the past, some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected crimes they have committed”.

In essence, these guidelines were set in place to ensure a transparent and consistent approach in the sentencing of these types of offences, whilst also promoting a safer workplace for employees. According to the sentencing council, the types of offences that come under the new guidelines are very varied. Some examples of offences could include:

  • A building firm that causes death or injury to a worker by not providing proper safety equipment or training.
  • A food manufacturer causing respiratory problems to employees exposed to dust particles such as flour due to a substandard LEV system.
  • A pharmaceutical company causing serious illness to workers exposed to dangerous chemical fumes that have not been adequately extracted from the work area.
  • A food establishment causing an outbreak of food poisoning due to unsafe food preparation.

What Does This Mean For Businesses?

The offence guidelines cover all scenarios where a business may have caused the death, illness or serious injury to an employee by not equipping, protecting or training them properly for the job. Whilst the caps on the fines are extremely high – up to £20 million, the court will be required to follow a structured nine-step approach before issuing a final penalty. Some of the steps included are:

  • The seriousness of the offence – determined by the risk of harm (low, medium or high) and liability of the offender, varying from minor to deliberately dangerous acts.
  • The financial effect on the business – determined by using tables provided by the guideline which group businesses based on their income. There are five categories of organisation ranging from a turnover of under £2 million, known as ‘micro’, to ‘very large’, where a business turns over an excess of £50 million.
  • The context of the offence – this enables the court to establish if other alterations to the fine within the category range are required, this could include instances where the incident occurred due to a freak accident or other uncontrollable factors.
  • Any other factors which indicate a reduction – these may include a business assisting the court with the prosecution by providing information, or the offender pleading guilty.

Whilst we have only been able to encapsulate the main features of the guideline changes, you can read the full update here.

 What Are My Responsibilities As An Employer?

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the welfare, health and safety of their employees and other people who might be affected by the business. Failure to do so can result in fines or imprisonment for the responsible persons. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practical to achieve this, by assessing and controlling any risks that might arise.

Planning these measures ahead of time is key to ensuring the guidelines are met and the health of your employees is protected. Businesses need to take the time to review existing systems regularly, taking into consideration any changes within the business that might mean adjusting their health and safety procedures. For manufacturing companies where employees are at risk of being exposed to harmful substances, fumes or dust particles there needs to be regular testing (with a Thorough Examination and Test of all Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems at least once every 14 months) as well as regular maintenance of the systems that protect their employees.

Training is also an important part of any business’s health and safety strategy; if an employee doesn’t understand their role, responsibilities or risk prevention procedure then they can leave themselves, other employees and in some cases the public, at risk.

How can Vent Tech Help?

As reported by the HSE, an estimated 13,000 new cases of respiratory or lung problems are caused or made worse by hazardous working conditions each year. If you are in a manufacturing industry or any sector where workers can be exposed to dangerous fumes or dust, you will need to adhere to rigorous ongoing testing of your LEV systems which are designed to protect workers from hazardous dust and fumes. To ensure that the systems are functioning correctly they need regular LEV testing by a competent, qualified person at least once every 14 months.

Thorough Examination and Testing of LEV systems is a legal requirement in the UK. While the HSE provides guidance about the design of LEV systems in HSG 258 – ‘Controlling airborne contaminants at work’, there are still many LEV installations, fitted badly, where this advice has been ignored. Not only must LEV systems be tested every year they also require regular servicing and maintenance to ensure they are working effectively and to comply with HSE regulations. Even if your system has had a Thorough Examination and Test, it will also need a regular servicing plan. No business wants to shut down production due to a failed system, which could have been avoided with correct maintenance.